Monday, October 25, 2021



10/21/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood (on trash day)


Last week I showed you the maple in my neighborhood with the interesting coloring pattern (at right). Although it had lost some leaves on top, it was still mostly green on the bottom half. Nine days later, I walked by again, and it was nearly bald! Some parts of the green areas were now yellow, and all the rest of the leaves were scattered all over the pavement. On a gray, blustery day threatening rain (which came a short time later), I knew it was now or never if I wanted to sketch it again: Surely our impending “bomb cyclone” would take down the rest of the leaves.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Few Comments on Tinted Graphite


10/20/21 Cretacolor AquaGraph in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Now that our beloved Daniel Smith store is closing, our brick-and-mortar options are few. Artist & Craftsman Supply is a decent and convenient choice (one of my first stops after I got vaccinated), but the selection is somewhat limited. A much better selection can be found at Blick, but that store has always been inconvenient to me: scarce, expensive parking or a lengthy bus ride, despite being only a few miles away. However, with the opening of two new light rail stations, both extremely convenient to me, Blick is suddenly much more accessible: an easy, 10-minute train ride away.

"Tinted graphite" pencils, from top: Cretacolor AquaGraph, Caran d'Ache Technalo RGB, Derwent Graphitint, Spectrum Noir ColourTint

All of that is a long-winded way of explaining how I found myself in possession of a new Cretacolor AquaGraph pencil last week when Greg and I took the light rail to Capitol Hill. (Our destination was lunch, but Blick was only a couple of blocks away – what a coincidence!) I know Blick’s online catalog fairly well, so I didn’t expect to find anything new, but there it was – a water-soluble pencil that had managed to escape my radar (clearly, I’m off my game). I came home with a green one. It’s also available in red and blue. 

Cretacolor AquaGraph is an interesting hybrid of graphite and “color” (pigment or dye; information on specific product content is usually scarce from manufacturers). I have three other such “tinted graphite” pencils: Caran d’Ache Technalo RGB, Derwent Graphitint and Spectrum Noir ColourTint.

All four swatches are subtle shades of green.

Although I’m not a huge fan of Cretacolor’s color products, I love the Austrian company’s Nero pencils, and its Graphite Aquarell pencils have strong washes. Similarly, the AquaGraph has a surprisingly rich wash with a subtle green tint that only appears when activated with water. Although the barrel is labeled HB, the 4mm (unfortunately off-center) core feels much softer.

In terms of wash quality, AquaGraph seems most similar to Caran d’Ache’s RGB pencils but with a higher ratio of color to graphite. It’s also similar to Caran d’Ache in appearing much like ordinary graphite when dry. Both Derwent Graphitint and Spectrum Noir Colourtint are disappointing by comparison: Although they exhibit slightly more color in their dry states and come in a much wider range of colors, both have weak washes when activated. (In my sample swatches, I chose Derwent and Spectrum Noir greens that came closest to the AquaGraph’s green.)

“Neither here nor there” but somewhere between water-soluble graphite and watercolor pencils, tinted graphite pencils are typically not what I reach for. On this day last week, however, portentous of the “bomb cyclone” of wind and rain headed our way, the subtle tint seemed just right for the wet, gray, toneless scene outside my studio window. The green tint hardly registers visually as a hue, but I like the contrast between the activated areas (houses) and the dry marks (foliage).

The eraser shown in the image is only to keep the round pencil from rolling. I did not test the pencil for erasability. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Inktober, Week 3: Still Mostly Blind

10/20/21 attitude

My Inktober intention is to continue with blind contours. The only exception on Week 3 was the day that I was so excited to be sketching people on public transportation again that I forgot.

The most fun was making a couple of partial blind contour selfies – what a hoot! I liked one so much that I used it as my Facebook profile image. If you have never tried one, I recommend it highly. Not only is it super fun, but it may also reveal attitude you didn’t know you had! 😉

10/15/21 pencil sharpener

10/16/21 slightly less attitude

10/17/21 light rail passenger (the only non-blind contour this week)

10/18/21 parked cars in Maple Leaf

10/19/21 light rail passenger

10/21/21 excavator

Friday, October 22, 2021

Elementary Maple

10/18/21 Olympic View Elementary School, Maple Leaf neighborhood

Although Olympic View Elementary School is easily within walking distance, we usually don’t go in that direction on our daily walks. I have been determined to peep as many leaves as possible while the peeping is good, however, so we have been taking different routes lately. This maple in front will be a keeper on my annual tour!

As many trees as I sketch, each is still a challenge in different ways. This one had relatively loose foliage compared to some densely packed trees. I can’t recall which artist said this, but he had recommended that painters leave “holes for the birds to fly through” when painting trees. I tried to leave some sky holes, but I inadvertently filled in more than I had intended. I also lost some of the light because I got a bit carried away with those colors I love so much. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges of working with a primary triad: Sometimes I have to choose between the local colors and the values. The answer is to always choose values – but it’s hard not to be dazzled by a brilliant maple.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Local Color

10/16/21 NE 83rd facing west

A leaf on the trees in the sketch above

Just a couple blocks from home, I had spotted a short row of brilliant yellow and red-orange trees that lit up the whole block (above). After sketching them, I pulled into a driveway to turn around – when I saw what had been behind me while I was sketching: An even more colorful mix (below)! I reparked in the opposite direction to catch that wall of color, too. It always pays to look around, even if you think you’re done sketching! (I’ve now added this very nearby block to my regular leaf-peeping tour.)

I snapped a photo of the leaves of the trees in the top sketch to try to identify them. My plant app suggested that it’s an Acer tataricum, or Tatarian maple. Although the leaf looks slightly different, I thought it could also be an Acer Ginnala, whose leaf I sketched last fall. It’s clearly a variety of maple, but the leaves are elongated rather than hand shaped as most maples are. Anyone know for sure?

10/16/21 NE 83rd facing east

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

St. James Cathedral

10/14/21 St. James Cathedral

Completed in 1907, St. James Cathedral is one of my favorite old buildings in Seattle. I admire its twin towers from Interstate 5 whenever I’m downtown. An appointment brought me to First Hill last week, so I used the opportunity to sketch one of its bell towers from Ninth Avenue. At 8:59 a.m., a half-hour after I began this sketch, the bells started chiming. By that point, I was dang cold on that gray, drizzly morning, so the bells cheered me up until I finished a short time later.

Despite the Roman Catholic cathedral’s architectural complexity, which continues to challenge me, I have attempted it many times over the years. My favorite sketch might still be my very first brave attempt in 2013 (shown below) when I had been sketching for only a little more than a year. Sometimes I think I had more courage then than I do now!


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pike Place Market People


10/17/21 Pike Place Market

Sunday was the international Urban Sketchers 24-hour event, USk Sketch Together, with sketchers around the globe taking part with live videos and images from their respective sketch outings. USk Seattle chose iconic Pike Place Market for our event. The forecast all week was for rain that day, but once again, the weather gods were with us: Not a drop!

Before the pandemic, I used to happily sketch people on buses and light rail trains whenever I had somewhere to go. Throughout the wet-weather months, I had taken for granted being able to draw people in coffee shops. The thing I missed most during the worst of the pandemic was sketching people in public. For Sunday’s outing, I decided it was time to get back on public transportation. As a personal celebration during the Sketch Together event, I dedicated the outing to sketching nothing but people. In fact, I used the “observational cartooning” technique I learned from Taylor Dow in his workshop a couple of weeks ago to help tell the story of people at the Market: drawings made from life combined with written commentary.

On the level below the Market Commons, I could look up at a corner of the pedestrian area with one of the best waterfront views (above). It turned out to be a popular corner to take selfies and other photos. I started there but realized quickly that my view was limited.

Next I got up on the upper level myself so that I could see and sketch more people, especially their various photo stances – both taking and posing. Many were selfies, but others were couples and families who asked a passing stranger to snap a photo for them. When I wasn’t sketching, I timed a few: On average, I have about six seconds to capture a selfie. If someone else is taking the photo, I have a bit longer. The typical pose for couples is for one to put an arm around the other. When couples take a selfie together, they snap one, then usually one person is more interested than the other in the result and often needs a retake. I had as much fun people-observing as people-sketching.

It feels good to sketch people again!

To see what the rest of the world sketched that day, search the hashtag #usksketchtogether.

Many snoozers on the light rail train, a.m.
and p.m.

I seem to be the only one awake
on this train. It was my first public
transportation ride in 19 months.

USk Seattle knows how to Sketch Together!

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